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Eight questions to ask when creating a website content strategy

10 April 2015

Content Strategy is a relatively new discipline within web development. Margot Bloomstein, brand and content strategist at Appropriate Inc defines it as ‘planning for the creation, aggregation, delivery, and useful governance of useful, usable, and appropriate content in an experience.’ It’s particularly important when it comes to building websites for charities due to the diversity of audiences, content and calls-to-action.

It’s not unusual for us to work with clients with all the following content on their site:

  • Resource library
  • Q&As
  • News
  • Jobs and volunteering
  • Blog
  • About page (our vision, our story)
  • Donate/Fundraise (in multiple ways)
  • Directory of services
  • Membership pages
  • Impact stories
  • Maps of service providers

Without employing a strategy, sites with this much content can easily become difficult to manage, measure and will provide a sub-optimal experience for site users.

Here are eight questions to ask to make sure this doesn’t happen.

1. How’s your existing content performing?

Get access to your stats through a tool like Google Analytics. There’s loads you can find out about your existing content that will help you move forwards. One way to approach this is to create a spreadsheet of all your content and then pick some key questions, such as:

  • What are the least viewed pages?
  • What are the most viewed pages?
  • What are the pages with the highest bounce rate?
  • What are the most common user journeys?

It’s easy to be drawn into the specifics at this stage, but remember to keep the big picture in mind and to look at how each piece of content relates to other content.

The answers to these questions will inform your decisions when deciding what content to keep, remove, and edit.

2. Who are your audiences?

Most charities have a variety of target audiences, often with complex and varying needs. The first step is to identify your audiences and prioritise them. One way to do this is through mind mapping.

Once you’ve identified and prioritised your audiences, think about the information they need from your website. Donors, beneficiaries, journalists and volunteers will all want different information – how can you make their journey through your site as easy as possible? Part of the answer for this will lie in your site map, but also in signposting and homepage layout.

3. What are your website objectives?

The needs of your audience need to be balanced with your needs as an organisation.

Are you looking to: increase donations, sign-up volunteers or make more media contacts, for example?

When you have this in place – go back to your original spreadsheet of content and map who it’s for, what it’s doing and how it’s meeting your website objectives.

4. Have you got a distinctive voice and tone?

Your charity should have a distinguishing voice and tone. Think about Save the Children’s assertive unafraid campaigning or Macmillan’s use of active, energising words.

Ensure you have a document of principles and examples of the type of language you use before writing any content for your site. Share this with your design and web development team.

Read CharityComms’ Best Practice Guide: Pitch Perfect: linking voice and values and Mailchimp’s ‘Voice and Tone’.

5. What are your key messages?

Messages are the essence of what you want audiences to understand about you and your work – but they are not the same as content. They influence the content you select and create, the sitemap, the design and calls to action. You might have different messages for different audiences.

6. Have you got a list of topics?

There’s a lot you could write about. The challenge is to find the topic areas that meet your organisational objectives and user needs. If you have identified your audiences, what they want and the key messages you are wanting to communicate – then you’re set.

Audience + Messaging = Topics

In Content Strategy for the web’ Halvorson and Rach suggest creating a topic map, showing how topics relate to one another, as well as to user segments, messages and channels.

7. What is metadata?

Metadata is ‘data about data’ – words and numbers assigned to particular pieces of content to make it findable – web search engines look for it when indexing content and listing it in search results.

Metadata needs to:

  • Reflect the content substance
  • Be consistent across types and topics

Here’s the basic metadata to make sure you include when uploading and editing content:

  • Title tag. This should put the most important information first so it shows up before the cut-off in the search engine results page Google (around 55-65 characters including spaces).
  • Description tag. This should also put the most important information first (approximately 156 characters including spaces). The title and description tag should both be compelling.
  • Keywords tag – from longest in length to shortest, separated by commas.

8. Is your content prepared for the future?

Once content is online the journey is not over. Using a tool like Google Analytics will help you to identify how it’s working and to adjust accordingly. Make sure there’s a plan in place for updating broken links, adding new content and editing old content to make sure it’s still useful.

Read more

Investing in a content strategy leads to better ROI with video

Mary Mitchell

content strategist, White Fuse Media

Mary is content strategist at White Fuse Media and a PhD candidate working with social media and interactive documentary in protracted refugee crises. Her writing on human rights has appeared in the Guardian's CiF, Al Jazeera English and The New Statesman. She's worked in international development and nonprofit communications and has provided social media training for staff from some of the UK's leading development charities, including Oxfam and UNICEF.